Past, present and future28 February 2001
In the first two instalments of this series NEI interviewed nuclear power veterans who helped shape the industry. Here, a relative newcomer, Rainer Molinari of Siemens Nuclear (now part of Framatome ANP) describes the outlook for the future from a different perspective.
With the shortage of new construction, it can prove to be a challenge to provide on-site experience for nuclear engineers. At the end of 2000, Brazil’s Angra 2 was successfully commissioned, with the handover marking the completion of another Siemens power plant, their last being Neckar 2 in Germany. This was an opportunity for Siemens to give experience to young engineers. Siemens sent 30-35 young engineers to the Angra site, to gain essential on-site experience.
Rainer Molinari joined Siemens in 1992, three years after the handover of Neckar 2, and his first opportunity to oversee the construction of a Siemens PWR came with the Angra project.
“Angra wasn't the first nuclear power plant I visited, but it was the first of the Siemens-PWR-type,” said Molinari. “Although I'm a Siemens employee the first nuclear power plants I encountered were Russian VVER-types while working on some backfitting projects. I had been involved with fire protection improvements at Mochove 1 and 2, and with fire protection improvements at Bohunice.
“Arriving in Brazil I found the safety features and compact layout of Angra 2 very impressive. Angra is located on the picturesque beach of Itaorna, 130km soutwest of Rio de Janeiro, with a good view of the Atlantic.”
Molinari spent seven months in Brazil, mainly working on commissioning the cooling water system. “It gave me a great deal of experience with the reactor type and its systems. I also learned quite a bit about I&C, which is not an area that I specialise in.” He was responsible to the commissioning engineer in charge, and was mainly involved with various interfaces. It was these interfaces, for safety, the reactor system, the electrical power supply, the cooling system and the various interlocks, that gave him his insight into the I&C systems.
He was involved in carrying out system checks, preparations for pressure tests, interlock tests, and co-ordination of the workers. In particular, he helped clarify technical issues, and provided a link between the design engineers and the operational staff. Inevitably in any large project of this nature, questions about specific points can arise.
Molinari found that, while many of the basic principles are the same for VVERs and PWRs, they have different concepts for system layouts, with different attitudes towards such things as built-in redundancies. As a result, there were a lot of different things to learn and become familiar with.
Since returning from Angra, Molinari has been working on a project on the HVAC at Tianwan, a VVER-1000. This involves dealing with over 5000 different components, and Molinari is involved in co-ordinating the documentation, tests and delivery of the system. The project is expected to last 2-3 years. He says that it is an interesting exercise, because there is an interface with both the Chinese operators and the Russian designers of the plant. He feels that the skills he learnt at Angra in dealing with the various interfaces have stood him in good stead for his current project.
Only a few years after Molinari joined Siemens, the German government announced that the country will be phasing out nuclear power. With this in mind, did he think that he might have made the wrong career decision?
“I may find myself in a situation in the future where I may be forced to change my job, but I think that it is too early as yet to say what will happen in this country. Perhaps there will be opportunities in nuclear engineering in other countries, but for the time being I remain optimistic.
I don’t think that the country will be able to come up with a viable alternative to nuclear power.
“Phasing out nuclear power in Germany is a very bad idea. I think that we have some of the safest nuclear facilities in the world, and we will continue to need power supplies for our industries, households and transport. Decommissioning of our nuclear power plants would quickly lead to a shortage of German-produced electric power. This would mean that we would have to import electricity from countries such as France, and the Czech Republic amongst others. They would produce electrical power by means of nuclear plants that are located near Germany. This means that these countries would benefit from the money and jobs arising from the added demand and, at the same time, we would not have any control over those nuclear facilities producing our electricity. The idea of phasing out the nuclear industry will not set a good example to others and will have a bad impact on research and development in Germany.”
Molinari added: “In my opinion however, the end to nuclear power in Germany is not yet in sight. Last year, the German government came to an agreement with the operating companies which allows the nuclear plants to continue to be operated for at least the next 20 years. We are only approaching half-time – there’s still a long way to go before the final whistle. In addition, the political situation in Germany could easily change over the next 20 years, and the decision to phase out nuclear plants could be reversed before then.”
Despite the government’s decision Siemens continues to strengthen its involvement in the industry. “The merger with Framatome allows both groups to increase their positions in the nuclear markets globally. As a company we can continue to keep our knowledge up-do-date and play an important part in the industry’s future, irrespective of what happens to the industry in Germany.”
However, the most immediate challenge that is faced by the nuclear industry is the problem that it has in attracting enthusiastic young engineers, such as Molinari. “I personally find the industry to be fascinating, particularly the area of power generation. Nuclear engineering as a whole incorporates many aspects of mechanical, electrical, civil and safety engineering at a very
“I’d say that there are two main difficulties that the nuclear industry has in being able to attract young engineers.
“First of all, there are currently many other booming and appealing industries, such as the information and communication technologies, which appear to be much more exciting to many young people, and they are more able to attract young engineers than the nuclear industry.
“Secondly, a lot of young people believe that the era of nuclear technology is behind us and that a renaissance simply isn’t going to take place.
“If there is to be any chance of companies being able to attract a lot of young engineers again, new nuclear plants will have to be built. I therefore hope that new nuclear plants will be built in Europe over the next 10 years.”